Coalition crisis deepens over Haredi draft law

UTJ was unhappy after meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and continues to threaten government’s stability.

Compilation photo of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and UTJ leader Yaacov Litzman (photo credit: MARC SELLEM/YOEL LEVI)
Compilation photo of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and UTJ leader Yaacov Litzman
(photo credit: MARC SELLEM/YOEL LEVI)
Coalition leadership continued to seek a compromise to avoid the coalition’s dissolution Thursday night, after a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and leaders of the Haredi political parties failed to defuse the growing political crisis over a bill they are promoting for military-service exemptions.
Asked about the survivability of the coalition in light of the crisis, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (Likud), who was involved in negotiations, was far from certain that the issue could be resolved, telling The Jerusalem Post that “it is impossible to know,” and that “at the moment there is no solution.”
Shas and United Torah Judaism say they will not vote for the 2019 state budget unless the Knesset passes their legislation to restore the legal exemptions from military service available to full-time yeshiva students, after the High Court of Justice struck down just such a law last year.
A senior Likud source said “there are about 100 proposals on the table,” but none of them seems likely to be used.
“There’s no solution or outline at all,” the source said.
Despite reports of the establishment of a committee to resolve the problem, senior sources in UTJ said nothing substantive was offered on Wednesday night, and described the idea of a committee as a joke.
“I haven’t seen the Likud moderate its bills because of what other parties want,” UTJ MK Uri Maklev told Kan News.
MK Moshe Gafni, who leads the Degel Hatorah party within UTJ, suggested that votes on the 2019 budget be postponed until May, along with the vote on the enlistment-exemption bill, but Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon refused.
Coalition partner Yisrael Beytenu has said that it will refuse to support such a law and will even quit the government over the issue.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman posted a humorous Purim video on his social media accounts in which he wore an IDF uniform, a kippa and peyot (hassidic sidelocks), and said that soon UTJ chairman Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman will be in (special forces unit) the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit (Sayeret Matkal), and Gafni will be in the Naval Commandos’ Flotilla 13.
Netanyahu convened the meeting Wednesday night with Litzman, Gafni, and Shas chairman and Interior Minister Arye Deri – together with fellow Likud members Levin and Ze’ev Elkin, minister of both Jerusalem affairs and environmental protection – to try to find a solution to this coalition crisis.
The Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement after the meeting saying that a committee had been established, headed by Levin, and including representatives from the coalition parties and the Attorney-General’s Office to find “a [mutually] agreeable version of the enlistment law for a preliminary hearing.”
However, a source close to Litzman told the Post that nothing was agreed upon during the meeting, which he described as “meaningless talk,” and that the idea of a committee “mocked” the Haredi parties.
UTJ and Shas insist that coalition support for the enlistment-exemption law is anchored in their coalition agreements with the Likud, and the tensions over this law threaten to seriously destabilize – and maybe even topple – the current government.
Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay said that “politicians see the prime minister is weak,” and that the Haredi parties’ behavior is an attempt to take advantage of the situation.
“The prime minister, who is under a police assessment that he accepted a bribe, lost the moral ability to lead the country and make decisions,” Gabbay said. “The time has come for an election. The time has come for a change.”
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.